Since this was the first such class I had taught, I misjudged my timing and ran out of time for questions. I'll try to do better if I have another such opportunity in the future. Fortunately, the teacher had the students write up questions for me before the class, andI brought those home with me to answer here on my blog.
I ask that if you are under the age of 18 and reading this blog, especially if you go to the school where I spoke, ask your parents' permission before proceeding. I am comfortable discussing any of these topics and teaching from an honest, evidence-based, and God-honoring perspective about the incredible design of our bodies, but I do not want any angry parents calling or emailing me or the school.
Here are the teens' questions, continued. Part 2 will be just on cycles and fertility. (Here is the link to Part 1.)
- "Why is it when you find out you're pregnant, you don't have your period like you normally would?" "Ask about periods (All of the period)." "Can you explain ovarian menstrual cycle?" "Discharge?" "What is estrogen?" "Birth control?"
These are great questions, and I'm glad they were brave enough to ask. Since these questions are all interrelated, I'll try to segue my answers. I'd really love to do a detailed class specifically for teens and young 20's about menstrual cycles, but it would require a permission slip, for certain.
I'm going to have to keep the explanation really basic, because literally, entire books have been written on the topic. In fact, I'll go ahead and recommend a few:
Cycle Savvy: The Smart Teen's Guide to the Mysteries of Her Body for mature pre-teens and teens who are ready to know the details about their body's workings.
The Care & Keeping of You 1: The Body Book for Younger Girls for girls age 8 and up, with very basic explanations of puberty and cycles.
Taking Charge of Your Fertility: The Definitive Guide to Natural Birth Control, Pregnancy Achievement, and Natural Health book and website. For very mature teens and any adult woman who wants to thoroughly understand her reproductive system. I highly recommend that all women read this before they get married and/or plan a pregnancy.
It calls itself the "Definitive Guide," and that's no exaggeration. Ladies, do you have irregular cycles? Hard cramps? Possible endocrine or hormonal problems or imbalances? Want to know WHAT'S UP DOWN THERE??? Get this book, start charting your cycles as it teaches you (which involves a lot more than just circling days on a calendar!), and take your findings to your midwife, GYN, or OB. Don't have one yet? Most midwives can take care of all your well-woman care, tests, etc. The midwifery model of care for pregnancy and birth is the most evidence-based for the majority of healthy women, so why not get established with a midwife from the start? If you have a rare or high risk situation, they will refer you to a specialist. This collaborative care model is one that we are already familiar with. For instance, most healthy people do not have a cardiologist. They likely see a general/family practice doctor, who will refer them out to a cardiologist if some high risk situation comes up. It's like that with midwifery.
How to condense this to a very basic overview? This is going to be really long, I can tell. Here's a better explanation from a .gov, trustworthy & not coming from a corporation that's trying to make a buck off you by selling disposable products and making you feel bad about yourself in the process.
What is menstruation?
What is the menstrual cycle?
What happens during the menstrual cycle?
Menstruation (men-STRAY-shuhn) is a woman's monthly bleeding. When you menstruate, your body sheds the lining of the uterus (womb). Menstrual blood flows from the uterus through the small opening in the cervix and passes out of the body through the vagina. Most menstrual periods last from 3 to 5 days.
When periods (menstruations) come regularly, this is called the menstrual cycle. Having regular menstrual cycles is a sign that important parts of your body are working normally. The menstrual cycle provides important body chemicals, called hormones, to keep you healthy. It also prepares your body for pregnancy each month. A cycle is counted from the first day of 1 period to the first day of the next period. The average menstrual cycle is 28 days long. Cycles can range anywhere from 21 to 35 days in adults and from 21 to 45 days in young teens.
The rise and fall of levels of hormones during the month control the menstrual cycle.
In the first half of the cycle, levels of estrogen (the “female hormone”) start to rise. Estrogen plays an important role in keeping you healthy, especially by helping you to build strong bones and to help keep them strong as you get older. Estrogen also makes the lining of the uterus (womb) grow and thicken. This lining of the womb is a place that will nourish the embryo if a pregnancy occurs. At the same time the lining of the womb is growing, an egg, or ovum, in one of the ovaries starts to mature. At about day 14 of an average 28-day cycle, the egg leaves the ovary. This is called ovulation.
After the egg has left the ovary, it travels through the fallopian tube to the uterus. Hormone levels rise and help prepare the uterine lining for pregnancy. A woman is most likely to get pregnant during the 3 days before or on the day of ovulation. Keep in mind, women with cycles that are shorter or longer than average may ovulate before or after day 14.
A woman becomes pregnant if the egg is fertilized by a man’s sperm cell and attaches to the uterine wall. If the egg is not fertilized, it will break apart. Then, hormone levels drop, and the thickened lining of the uterus is shed during the menstrual period.
OK. So does that answer most of it? For the specifics of the questions asked, the reason a woman her period is that she ovulated approximately 2 weeks before, and the egg was not fertilized. The uterine lining builds up in preparation to make a cozy home for a fertilized egg and sustain it as it grows. If no fertilized egg implants into that rich, nutritious (for a new baby) uterine lining, then the body sheds that lining in preparation to start all over again. So, when a woman misses her period due to pregnancy, there aren't periods during the pregnancy because the fertilized egg implanted, began to grow, and used that lining. Did I explain that well in lay terms?
If a mother exclusively breastfeeds (that means nursing on baby's cue's around the clock, with no bottles or pacifiers and no other foods or supplements), then there is a 98-99% chance that her fertility (periods) will be suppressed for 6 months. This is a great benefit in helping with natural child spacing.
What is discharge?
The vagina is self-cleaning. It doesn't need douches, sprays, creams, or lotions. In fact, any of these products can disrupt its healthy, normal pH level and make it have an odor or even cause an infection. Advertisers want to make women feel self-conscious and embarrassed about your lady parts. Well, guess what, ladies? Your parts are awesome! You were fearfully and wonderfully made. Your body is not a lemon, and it deserves some respect! News flash: lady parts were never meant to smell like spring rain. They're supposed to smell like lady parts. In fact, be very cautious what soap you use in that area, because even soaps can throw off the pH of the area or cause a reaction to fragrance, colors, or other ingredients in the soaps. You might be best off just to use fresh, clean water.
So, where am I going with that? What I'm trying to convey is that discharge is not dirty or gross. It's a normal part of our fertility & cycles, part of a healthy body. Part of discharge's function is the body's self-cleaning, but much of its purpose is intricate and amazing: it is cervical fluid produced to help sperm get to the cervix during fertility. Like I said, all the details of it fill a book, but by observing your pattern of normal discharge daily, and getting to know your body, you can know when you are fertile or not fertile. This requires a lot more reading and training than this blog, just as a disclaimer. I'm just introducing the concept to you, perhaps for the first time that you are hearing it, that the texture and consistency of normal vaginal discharge is directly related to fertility and the body gearing up for someday, when you are ready to be pregnant. Pretty impressive, huh?
If you get to know your body's norm, it will be obvious to you if something is *not* your norm. If there is a foul odor to discharge or it's a color you've never seen before, or if there is itching, this could possibly indicate an infection that needs treatment. Please see your midwife or doctor.
On to birth control. There are many options for birth control, both pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical. Not many women are advised of the risks of pharmaceutical birth control methods, so if it's something you're considering, I highly recommend you do a lot of reading to make sure the benefits outweigh the risks in your instance.
Some teens are advised to go on birth control pills because of irregular or very hard and painful periods. This isn't the only option out there. If this is your situation, you might be able to find a midwife or naturopath who can give you options that don't have the short- and long-term risks of pharmaceutical birth control methods. Rather than using a drug to artificially stimulate the body to have periods, it can be beneficial to figure out what the underlying problem is that's causing the symptoms of pain or irregular cycles, and treat THAT instead of treating the symptoms.
Here's one article on the subject. "Natural Alternatives to Hormonal Contraceptives"
It goes through a long list of risks and side effects of chemical/hormonal contraceptives and gives alternative options.
Here's my awesome Pinterest board for Fertility & Cycles. I update it regularly with newly bookmarked articles.
So that's that. Any other questions? I hope I didn't wear you out with too lengthy a response, but I wouldn't know how to answer it with less!
Here is the link to Part 1 of this series. Part 3 is upcoming!